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There is a general rule in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act that says you can’t get compensated if you are injured during an activity that is voluntary. For example, if your employer has a gym that you are allowed to use and they do it to promote good health for the workers, if you tear your ACL while running on the treadmill you’d not win that case. Nobody made you do that and it’s not part of your job duties.
On the other hand, if it’s mandatory that you go to the company picnic and you get hurt in a softball game, you’d be able to win a claim for work comp benefits.
Sometimes it’s not clear what is mandatory and what is not. That happened in a recent case where a teacher won benefits after badly breaking his arm while playing basketball with students after school. The Arbitrator and eventually the Appellate Court ruled that it was not a voluntary activity.
In this case, the teacher testified that they were required to participate in certain activities outside of school hours with no extra pay such as chaperoning a school dance or parent-teacher conferences. There was an after school program for good students who were rewarded by competing against the teachers. The principal asked him to play on multiple occasions and he declined out of a fear of being injured. The teacher got nervous because his contract was up and he kept on getting asked to play. He was worried about not getting re-hired or a poor performance review.
The Arbitrator ruled that had the principal not pressured him to participate, he would not have done so. During the game a student ran between his legs and he fell, fracturing his forearm.
On appeal, the Court agreed with the Arbitrator who compared the game to a school dance. He noted that only the teachers who were playing were there to supervise the students. The Court also noted that while basketball can be a recreational activity, the teacher here wasn’t doing this for his own recreation.
Bottom line is that a lot of cases fall in to a gray area where it’s not immediately clear cut if you have a case or not. Talking to someone who knows the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and doesn’t just dabble in it is really important. I bet there are a lot of attorneys who would have told this guy he has no case. They all were wrong.